TW: Transphobic language
If a person is inclined to count people who are transgender among the most significant threats to the rights of women or children generally, and if they are proposing to eliminate this threat by depriving trans people of their rights, by excluding them from participation in spaces reserved for the gender with which they are identified, by preventing them from participating in certain socio-economic activities, and by denying them the validity of their gender identity through the refusal to recognize their testaments to their own experiences, then we claim that they have transphobic views.1
The idea of “views” here gives us pause and we should think about what this means. That people merely have different “points of view” on a given topic is often used to derail discussions that risk becoming acrimonious. Especially among academics, who labor under the pretense of openness to the consideration of a diversity of competing views, the implication seems to be that all views must be weighed equally and considered impartially. We are often placated by this idea, especially when the personal stakes for us are low, because it allows those who express certain views to paint them with a veneer of inoffensiveness after reducing them to the level of mere speculation and intellectual inquiry. All inquiry is permitted, curiosity being an intellectual’s virtue, and so all views should be entertained with seriousness. In the market place of ideas, whether or not certain views ought to be taken seriously or debated is not in question; it is a presupposition. Appealing to intellectual freedom, democratic practices, and freedom of speech, the transphobe asserts their right to wage their transphobic polemics in every venue.
It is especially tempting, since the dominant mode of philosophical discourse in the English-speaking world carries the name of “analytic,” that we take every object of inquiry in the analytic spirit – as a composition of discrete elements that could be separated, broken down, and parceled out. Thus, human beings become a composite in which each of their parts might peacefully coexist with the others without necessarily affecting the whole of the person. Under such consideration, the transphobic views appear as just one point in a constellation that relates to the other points, coming from any source we can imagine, and yet never transforming those points through their relation to transphobia. A person may call themselves a “feminist,” an activist for the rights of women or gay people. They may consider themselves a good teacher and responsible citizen. They may have hobbies that they enjoy and find love in their personal relationships and even be tolerant in other areas of life, such as in religious matters, differences of political opinion, race relations, class difference and still, together with all this supposed tolerance, detest trans people. If they do not like trans people, their defenders will claim that the transphobe has had bad personal experiences with the trans community, that Science teaches us that gender is a true binary, that there is statistical evidence showing that trans-women in particular are a threat to cis-women, that they are, in other words, a product of our times. The transphobic view is thereby removed from the constellation of the person’s character and attributed to external forces that have swayed their judgment against trans people. We are thereby encouraged to ignore the personalities of transphobes and consider instead the number of trans people who are violent against cis-women, or who hold untenable views of gender identity, or who are unreasonable in their assertion of their right to self-identify, or who are too feminine/masculine/whatever and are thereby alleged to reinforce certain harmful or misogynistic gender stereotypes, or even to consider the history of trans people writ large, their appearance and function in various cultures throughout world history. We are then presented with a seemingly objective situation that is determining an equally objective point of view, somewhat unfairly labeled “transphobia,” for which a clear schematic could be produced to show the development of such views from arbitrary points in history to the present. The problem at once arises that transphobia is simultaneously a subjective point of view, part of the constellation of a persons character and personality, and also an impersonal phenomenon captured by statistical analysis and conditioned by socio-economic, political, and historical facts of the matter.
I am, however, completely unwilling to consider as a mere point of view such doctrines that take aim at particular persons and seek to deny them basic human rights, dignity, and which result in their oppression, exclusion, and misery.
This division is not exactly a contradiction, though they are essentially false conceptions of transphobia. Not only are they false – a matter of intellectual curiosity – but they are also dangerous. I am happy to agree that one could have a view on the government’s gun control policy in which they decide for particular reasons to either oppose or support the sale of assault rifles to the general population. Such views concern how society should be administered. I am, however, completely unwilling to consider as a mere point of view such doctrines that take aim at particular persons and seek to deny them basic human rights, dignity, and which result in their oppression, exclusion, and misery. The trans person whom the transphobe wishes to harm is not a schematic or abstract constellation defined by their genitalia or Science. They are a trans person, members of a small community who have decided, after much earnest soul-searching and agonizing deliberation, to live outwardly that existence which they feel most intimately within themselves and to which they sincerely and authentically attest. Any given trans person is recognizable only insofar as they do not quite fit a standard external measure of femininity or masculinity that dominates our historical moment. Nevertheless, many trans people seek to and succeed in passing without judgment according to the usual standards of binary gender identification, though this desire to pass is not universally held among trans people generally. Transphobia does not fall within the domain of views protected by the academic’s lauded intellectual freedom, nor generally under the aegis of free expression.
As a matter of fact, transphobia is not itself a mere point of view. Rather than a dispassionately held intellectual position, it manifests itself primarily as a passion. Of course, it can be given a theoretical dressing. The so-called “moderate” or “centrist” transphobe professes polite and civil discourse and will calmly explain that, “I personally do not hate trans people. I simply find it preferable, for various reasons, that they should be systematically excluded from certain gender specific socio-economic privileges and conform themselves to the gender norms currently governing public spaces.” And yet in the next breathe, among themselves or if you happen to have gained their trust, the transphobe will let slip that, “there must be something wrong with trans people; I feel physically upset by them.”
These arguments, which abound across the Internet in all venues where so-called “Gender Critical Feminism” and other forms of TER“F”ery are encouraged, are worth considering. They are worth considering, though not at all for the reasons which are given by the standards of intellectual freedom and so forth. For one, the unique logic of their passion should be a point of interest. We cannot easily imagine a person really saying, “There must be something wrong with coffee, because I am horrified to drink it.” Further, this passion reveals that transphobia in its most mild and self-restrained form is a synthetic part of the whole person and which may be stated in more or less reasonable terms, but which can, nevertheless, evoke visceral reactions in the transphobe. It is not unusual for cis-men to react with extreme violence and prejudice upon discovering that a woman toward whom they have displayed a sexual interest is trans. There is disgust for the trans person in the same way that racists evince disgust at Black people or ill-defined “Asians.” It is not necessarily the outer comportment of the trans person’s body per se that is the source of revulsion, because we know very well that one may love a trans person if one cannot tell by their outer comportment that they are trans. Rather, something from the mind inspires this bodily revulsion in the transphobe when their demands for gender conformity to biological sex are confounded by a trans person’s refusal to submit themselves to those expectations. After all, it is evidenced in many hetero- and homosexual relationships that we find a partner to be ultimately incompatible with our desires after an initial phase of attraction. It is not unusual for this to manifest as a specifically sexual incompatibility as well, whether concerning specific features of a partner’s genitalia or other preferences for certain kinds of sex acts, or sex acts performed in a particular way, etc. Likewise, a person may not initially think themselves capable of being attracted to someone who shares certain sex characteristics and yet find that they are ultimately attracted to a particular trans person regardless of whatever arrangement of sex organs the trans person may possess. We are certainly capable of being variously unattracted to people of all gender expressions for reasons that are not reducible to transphobia, homophobia, or any base bigotry. But the passion of the transphobe involves their mind, their views, in such a thoroughgoing way that it is fully integrated with their physiological being.
There is no experience serving as the root cause of this integration. Reading through hundreds of pages worth of writing from the transphobic perspective does not yield an experience that would fulfill the function of causing their view. They are largely content with simply listing the things they find wrong or objectionable in the fundamental being of trans people. “They are sneaky, dishonest, mutilated. They are pretending, delusional, ill.” And yet the transphobe professes to have trans friends and to associate with trans people who they ventriloquize. It is often remarked that hostility toward trans people is motivated by trans corruption of the youth; that they encourage others, especially children, to defy gender conformity. There are specific examples brought to the fore to explain the threat of trans people, especially trans-women, to cis-women, such as Karen White, who admitted to abusing women in a women’s prison to which she had been confined (and who is subsequently de-transiting in a fraught and highly idiosyncratic situation). But why not simply hate Karen White? Why the hostility toward trans people generally? Because they are predisposed to transphobia.
I constantly read how organizations that advocate on behalf of trans people’s rights are committing a thousand injustices, mostly against women and children. That social justice advocates amplify the interests of a tiny minority over the majority interests of people deemed more significant, at the very least in a statistical sense. To explain this threat requires two separate systems of interpretation just as when someone who is deluded into thinking they are Christ admits to being no more than a bartender when the matter is pressed against them. Their view shifts between two poles without ever embarrassing them. The fact that they are largely ignoring more concrete and immediate dangers will be explained away by the fact that trans-inclusion stands at the zenith of misogyny and (always) male privilege. When understanding the indignation expressed in these arguments it must be recognized that those who give voice to such sentiments have always adopted in advance a certain idea of trans people and their fundamental lack of a proper place in society. To decide that, among all of the concrete threats faced by women and children in society, it is trans people that pose the most immediate and volatile concern is to have given a priori preference to reasoning based on their passions in the conduct of their lives. It is no experience that produced their ideas of trans people, but rather their idea of trans people that explains their experience. If the trans person did not exist, the transphobe would have to invent them.
If the trans person did not exist, the transphobe would have to invent them.
A sympathetic reader might grant my analysis, but ask that we set aside the question of experience and admit that transphobia has an historical explanation. Transphobia doesn’t just appear out of nowhere, after all. The easy response is simply that the history of the United States or of Great Britain does not really tell us anything about trans people. Trans people have been oppressed as long as they have lived in these countries, participating in public life as best they can given the circumstances, taking advantage of certain progress made in the areas of tolerance so as to pursue their own interests, but certainly no more so than any other group within these countries and most definitely less so than others, for instance, the interests of business owners. Trans people are not treasonous as a class, and have, as a collective, committed no crimes against the state. If people believe there is proof of an out-sized threat from trans people, it is because someone has set out to collect the data on such threats. These outliers do not strike the imagination by themselves and their force is derived from misplaced vividness rather than proper statistical analysis. No one clutching their keys in a parking garage does so because there is a real threat from trans people in their narrow corner of the universe. Whatever evidence may be gleaned from history concerning the role of trans people depends very much on one’s conception of history.
It is said that progress made on behalf of trans people constitutes a step backwards from the hard-won victories of women’s rights. That women have fought expressly for women’s only spaces with the intention that those spaces would include only biological females, that is, persons with ovaries, a uterus, a vagina, and so on. To have these spaces invaded by trans people (read: trans-women) is another affront to womanhood by men who are exercising their privilege to gain access where they don’t belong and colonize women-only spaces.
I don’t know whether this is true, though my familiarity with feminist literature and philosophy makes me deeply suspicious that this is an accurate representation of the goals of women’s rights movements. What is certain is that transphobes believe this and such “historical facts” play a large role in their bitterness against trans people. The more that I think about this issue, the more apparent the vicious circle becomes. Men, who occupy the most significant and widespread positions of power within a patriarchal society, violently police gender norms among themselves and present the most serious threat to cis-women, trans people generally, and trans-women specifically. And yet, men are alleged to willingly give up all their privileges and enter into the life of a pariah among their peers so that they can gain access to women-only spaces for the purpose of exploiting women. But by being trans they have sacrificed the exact thing that most vouchsafes their access to women in the first place, namely, their masculinity and male privilege. Thus, to acquire the thing that their gender status is supposed to guarantee, they give up the very thing that guarantees their sexual access to women. Further, by abandoning of all their privilege in the act of divesting themselves of outward masculinity, the alleged “man” thereby constitutes an assault on femininity itself. But this can only be the case if femininity takes a derivative value from men – that women require male privilege to define femininity such that the denial of male privilege amounts to an assault on the very constitution of femininity itself.
So, it is not the “historical fact” which is key here, but the idea of trans people for which history is marshaled. When anyone resents trans people today, their reasoning is the same. They hold trans people responsible for sins against an imagined past, reinstating a secular concept of original sin where it is not God, but the History of the Women’s Struggle that has been offended against. We are to be convinced that the very character of trans people, if it is not inherited, is at least capable of being spread like a disease: infecting women only spaces, transmitted to the innocent youth who are corrupted by ideas of self-identification before they can reasonably decide their own fates, etc. Again, the idea of trans people formed by the transphobe determines history and not that history determines their idea.
There is a strong tendency to speak to “biological facts” as well. Yet the same circularity asserts itself against the science. We are reminded by scores of practicing biologists that the biology of sex is complicated, that it is not reducible to neat binaries, that human sexual expression is particularly complicated by a host of factors that out strip mere biological necessity, up to and including the performance of social roles overlaid on certain biological facts. But no body is the perfect incarnation of the biological facts and the performance of masculine and feminine roles itself displays a heterogeneity that does not map neatly on to biological differences which are assumed to be strictly binary. However, when we are asked to consider the matter it is the idea of trans identity that is the essential issue.
People choose transphobia as a basic orientation in their lives that commits them totally.
No external factor induces the idea of transphobia in the transphobe. People choose transphobia as a basic orientation in their lives that commits them totally. The attitude is comprehensive. It is adopted not only toward trans people as such, but toward the whole question of gender and its expression in relation to biological sex. Even these immediate concerns are outstripped as fundamental assumptions concerning history, society, and science are directed by this passionate concept of the world. Certain features or details may become more pronounced in any given transphobe, but they are present together and are mutually influential and reinforcing. This synthesis of the whole is what I will now move to describe.
I have suggested that transphobia is a passion. Emotions such as hate and anger are involved, as well as feelings of revulsion, disdain, and so on. But in normal circumstances such emotions are provoked by something: I hate the one who causes me to suffer, the smell of decay causes the contents of my stomach to rise in my throat. Yet transphobia cannot have such a provocation. The idea of it precedes the facts that are supposed to cause it. Indeed, it seeks these facts out in order to reinforce itself more strongly in the transphobe. These facts must even be subject to special interpretations that render them offensive. Mention a trans person to a transphobe and observe their irritation at this anomaly in their world. Insofar as we must give ourselves over to anger before it can manifest itself through our actions and deliberate speech, we must conclude that the transphobe has chosen to live by this passion. We are accustomed to people loving the object of their passions – fame, money, pleasure – but the transphobe does not love the object of their passion. More likely they hate it. It is therefore the impassioned state that they must love. We do not often imagine that such states are pleasant ones and we often find ourselves impassioned by an object in spite of ourselves. Logic teaches us to be wary of the passions and of strong emotional motivations in our reasoning. We condemn the monomaniacal pursuit of any reason to support the dictates of our passions – but this is what the transphobe has chosen above all.
How can it be that people choose for themselves to reason falsely? Good reason has us fretting in our search for the truth because we know how tentative and uncertain our reasons are. The shadow of doubt can arise at any minute. When I reason in earnest I cannot be sure of where I may end up. I am required to remain open, even to the point that I appear to be hesitant and wavering. Many people flee at the prospect of such a pursuit. They much prefer what is solid, certain, and unassailable. They do not want to change and they will make themselves unchangeable out of the fear of where change will take them. There is a fundamental fear, not only of the truth, but also of oneself. They are not so much afraid of the content of the truth, about which they remain largely ignorant, but are rather more in fear of the form of truth itself. This indefinite suspension of the truth leaves them feeling as though their own existence is in precarious suspension without a clue as to when the cords might snap. Better to exist totally, once and for all. Acquired views are no good and an innate view that renders the world sensible in its totality is much preferable to getting the world into view piecemeal. There is then a real fear of reason itself. Reasoning and research are made subordinate to what is already established in their view. Seek what is already found, be what one has always been. The attempt is driven by passion and reveals at once why the trans person immediately seems so objectionable: they have changed what is fundamental, what ought not be changed. But this certainty is rooted in biases that dictate the use of reason as a reinforcement of prejudice. In this way, the transphobe becomes impervious to experience.
Transphobes choose hate because it is a faith for them. From the very start, words and reasons are devalued. Consequently, the transphobe can rest easy. Discussions about trans rights become futile, even frivolous. From the outset of any such discussion of rights, the transphobe is already on completely different footing. They might offer a defense of their views, which is considered to be a kind of courtesy and a very civil thing, but they do not authentically give themselves over to considering the possibility that they are wrong. Their attempts amount to a projection of their intuitive certainty into the discourse. The transphobic statements I’ve reviewed above are largely absurdities: that children are encouraged to become trans, that men become trans to infiltrate women’s spaces and prey on them, that the gender binary is necessary to “Western” cultural ascendancy. Refuse to accept that the transphobe is totally unaware of the absurdity of these assertions. Deep down, they know that these are easily challenged frivolities. They amuse themselves only because it is their opponents who are obliged to take responsibility for their words; they still believe in words and take them seriously. The transphobe reserves for themselves the right to play. They can even enjoy playing around with the discourse because when they provide obviously ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of the other side. Bad faith is their joy, since persuasion is not their aim. Their aim is to intimidate and unsettle. Confronted too rigorously, they fall silent and must suddenly attend to something else; there is then no more time for arguments or “discourse”. Of course, they don’t fear being convinced. Their only real fear is to appear ridiculous or to lose out on the chance to convince the audience to their debates.
And so, the transphobe is immune to both reason and experience. But this immunity does not come about by the strength of their convictions. The opposite is the case: their conviction is strong because of their choice to be unassailable.
It is constantly asserted that in all other respects these people are indeed quite friendly, civil, and accommodated, but civil above all else. I cannot accept it.
They also choose to make themselves fearful. People become afraid of bringing on the transphobe’s wrath and the wrath of their online followers. It isn’t clear how far they are willing to be driven by their passion. The transphobe knows their limits, since their passion does not arise from external provocation. They reign it in and let it loose as it suits them, being not immediately afraid of themselves, but seeing instead the disturbing image of themselves in the eyes of others. Their gestures and words then conform to this image. Provided an image of themselves by the other, they have no need to look within for their own personality. They find their being entirely outside themselves choosing to become the fear they induce in others in their avoidance of turning inwards toward their own views. More than reason, the transphobe flees from an awareness of themselves. A sympathetic person might object to this: What if they are like this only toward trans people? What if, in other areas of life, they comport themselves with reason? But this is an impossibility. There are many cases of people involved in the Women’s March or Pride Days who denounce the presence of trans people. Their case is that the inclusion of trans people, especially trans-women, in movements for women’s rights or gay people takes away from the ultimate aim and is a slight against “real” women. Or that gender identity takes away the all-important focus on struggles that are really only about sexual orientation – that rights for trans people erases gay people, even to the absurd point of a conspiracy to castrate gay youths. It is constantly asserted that in all other respects these people are indeed quite friendly, civil, and accommodated, but civil above all else. I cannot accept it. Anyone who is comfortable denouncing others, outing them, denying them their humanity cannot share in our conception of humanity. They must not even see those who they claim to be helping in the same light as we do. Their kindness and generosity must be of a different kind. Passion cannot be contained to one isolated domain.
The transphobe will even admit that trans people are intelligent and politically powerful, sometimes even confessing to a sort of inferiority in these areas. Such concessions don’t bother the transphobe. The value of such qualities is always derived from the sort of person who possesses them. So, the more virtues a trans person has, the more dangerous and fearful they become. There is no illusion in the transphobe about what kind of person they are. They are the average, everyday person, though they will try to hide the implication of their mediocrity. They take pleasure in this image that they fight for a version of the common good, claiming that they have chosen this “good fight”. Solitary existence frightens the transphobe, be it the isolation of the genius or murderer – they are a part of the crowd and uphold the status quo. Whatever their stature, they seek at every turn to diminish it and thereby avoid standing out from the crowd and having to face themselves squarely. They are a transphobe because a transphobe is someone who will not be alone. Trans-exclusion is a series of proclamation sung as a chorus. By making these pronouncements, they are attached to a community, which amount to a tradition and community of mediocrity.
The glaring inconsistency that a transphobe is not necessarily humble or modest because they have resigned themselves to being mediocre immediately arises. There is a passionate pride in this community, and transphobia attempts to construct an elite of the ordinary. Among transphobes, non-conformity is trans. They readily disdain it along with any other virtues possessed by trans people. There are so many sham virtues that trans people develop to substitute for the mediocrity that they will never have. The true woman or man, rooted in their biological sex, comfortable with their assigned gender, carried aloft by patriarchal gender norms dating to at least to Aristotle, guided by the status quo, bolstered by reactionaries who discovered feminism only yesterday, finds no comfort in non-conformity. Their virtue depends instead on assimilation into a milieu laid out ahead of them by the generations before. It depends on identity. But it is not an identity one can develop for oneself; it is an identity that is inherited. The transphobe has a fundamental incomprehension of the ways identity works in contemporary discourse and communities. Identities are abstractions, products of unreason created by the delusions of trans people and their allies. An identity is not singular because a community shares it. It is a signal of our belonging rather than a single concrete attribute that can be pointed out. The transphobe conceives only of a primitive identity stemming from a magical transcendent sphere that infers legitimacy from external truths. There is only a mystical bond of participation in the objective category. They are soothsayers of real identity and are endowed with a special sensibility that can detect aberrations in their system. The underlying principle of transphobia is that the concrete possession of particular objects determines by magic the meaning of those objects. Their subtle sensibilities allow them to perceive precisely how one should conform and when non-conformity is excusable or not. They perceive what no one else can.
In the end, transphobic mediocrity allows them to perceive what the subtle, nuanced history of the study of sex and gender only obfuscates and ignores. Why? Because they align themselves with their biological function – their genitalia, their genes, and their conformity to external demands. Maybe a trans person, in their performance of a gender contrary to their biological essence, looks more outwardly masculine or feminine than they. No matter – the transperson transitioned only after their childhood, whereas they have always been male or female as it has been for thousands of years. The correctness of the trans person’s expression is merely stereotyping and acquired; the transphobe’s faults are in conformity with the transcendental principle of gender-as-sex. Non-conformity is seen as an empty gesture, a pernicious falsehood. The only things that truly matter are irrational resignation to pre-established values that will forever deny the very existence of trans people. The transphobe is therefore always starting out from this position of resignation to the status quo: patriarchy, misogyny, etc. They are opposed to trans people just as nature is to nurture, as innate properties to acquired ones, as essence to tabula rasa, the concrete to the abstract, transcendental identity to created identity, being to becoming.
More often than not – especially among the academics – the transphobe is a middling figure. They have risen just far enough into the middle of the pack to punch down at the marginalized, the precarious, and students. It is only through their opposition to trans people that they attain a level of notoriety and feel themselves capable of speaking a great and noble Truth. By presenting the trans person as the ultimate victimizer, they place themselves in the position of being the victim. Since the trans person wishes to take their gender identity from them, it shows that gender identity must belong to them. They have chosen transphobia so as to secure the validity of their own identities. The trans person has a much more distinct vision of their own identity? No matter, since distinction and non-conformity are trans and they can despise non-conformity. They may have a less distinct and self-defined identity that trans people, but this does not bother them. All that is required is that they nourish their resentment toward the corrupters of their established identity and the whole realm of discourse on identity becomes their sole purview. True men and women are equal; each of them being in possession of the entire correct view on their own assigned identity by mere virtue of their conformity to the norm.
Transphobia can then be seen as a kind of middling snobbery and we can see that those more rich in power and in advanced positions will readily take advantage of the transphobe’s passion. The passion can be exploited for reactionary, misogynistic, anti-feminist ends while the power themselves need not give themselves over entirely to transphobia. They have more important things to police. Transphobia spreads readily through this middling group because they occupy positions that are only just secure and are recently saved from positions of precarity or spared the marginalization of having followed the “wrong” course of study. It is of no surprise that we find the most vocal transphobes to be assistant professors and writers for online magazines and blogs, or tucked into the public but obscures threads of Reddit and Mumsnet. Their principle concern is to distinguish themselves from an imagined academic hegemony, another version of political correctness run amok. Unfamiliar with the extant literature, dilettantes in long running and highly developed knowledge projects, themselves subject to the avarice of institutionalized sexism and homophobia, they nevertheless proudly appeal to the authority and support of the most avid anti-feminists, misogynists, and homophobes. They go in for transphobia with the same zeal for which they desire the trappings of institutional authority and legitimization, because the patriarchy controls academia and they wish to control it also. Transphobia finds its joy not only in hating, but also in certain pleasures of power as well. By treating trans people, and here specifically trans scholars and grad students, as inferior and pernicious beings, they can simultaneously affirm their membership in the elite. This elite, however, allegedly based on merit and work, more closely resembles an aristocracy of birth in actuality. There is nothing to be done to merit this kind of superiority and once they have it, it cannot be lost. It is invested in them once and for all – it is their thing.
It is no good, then, to confuse the sudden infamy of transphobic scholars with an achievement attained by merit. In any case, the transphobe is not immediately concerned with individual merit. Such merit must be worked for, after all, just like the truth and each are only obtained after some difficulty. It is thought to be something deserved. But if these things are acquired, they are perpetually in question. One false move, one error, and merit dissolves over night. We are held responsible for the merits we enjoy, from childhood to the end of our days. The transphobe runs away from responsibility as they run from their own consciousness. Choosing for themselves the stability of a fence post, they choose with it a morality of ossified values. Whatever they do, they remain secure in the hierarchy and no matter what the trans person hopes to achieve they will never be admitted to even the lowest position.
The significance of the transphobe’s choice is becoming increasingly clear. They chose that which can never be corrected out of the fear of their own freedom, mediocrity out of fear of isolation, and, in their pride, they take their mediocre rigidity to be the mark of aristocracy. The existence of trans people is then found out to be an absolute necessity. Without them, to whom would the transphobe be superior? It is only through the trans person that the transphobe feels themselves to have the rights which would be denied to trans people. If it came about that trans people ceased to exist, as the transphobe on some level insists they do not, they would find themselves nothing more than obscurities within a patriarchal system in which the signifiers “man” or “woman” would offer cold comfort, since everyone possesses them. They would lose their grip on the reigns of the discourse because they are no longer contested, and their profound sense of equality with the named chairs and creators of rank would suddenly evaporate precisely because it is primarily a negative relation. Those frustrations, which have been explained as arising from the threat of trans people, would be forced to search for another external cause, unless the transphobe finally comes around to looking within themselves. The risk is then that their bitterness should be directed toward the powerful and their melancholy a result of their hatred of those whose acceptance they most desire. The transphobe is thus in the unenviable positions of needing the very people they wish to destroy.
The equality that the transphobe so desperately seeks among the elite has nothing to do with the equality of democratic pursuits of knowledge nor of the academic freedoms they claim as essential. The latter is realized only within the pre-established institutional hierarchies and remains compatible with a variety of power relations that function quite independently of transphobic passions. And yet, it is in protest against these very hierarchies that the transphobe asserts the equality of the sexes. They don’t understand anything about the true nature of these power relations and they do not care to. They do not grasp that they lay claim to the rights and privileges of their sex only in collaboration with the existing institutional powers. But from their point of view, they claim these rights not through such cooperation with power, but rather because of an innate and essential right to the total legitimacy of their gender identity. Their ideal of identity is when one is in possession of real and concrete physiological properties, which, in spite of their material manifestations, confer the mark of a binary ideal. Since transphobes are numerous, they each do their little part in maintaining an almost mechanical solidarity within their institutions and across several social organizations.
How well each transphobe integrates themselves within their milieu, together with how equal they are viewed to be by the powerful elite, is determined by the relative climate of the institutions in which they are participants. Transphobia can bring them closer to the old anti-feminists, who suddenly leverage their power into a newly discovered version of “feminism” that is commensurate with their goals, which have never changed and remain thoroughly anti-feminist. The egalitarian institution imagined by the transphobe is similar to a mob or spontaneous societies formed on occasions of lynching or scandal. Therein, equality is posited on the basis of a similarity in immediate goals. Bonded by anger, they share the end of imposing oppressive sanctions. Stereotypes and generalizations are attributed to individuals with extreme prejudice because they are not protected by a specialized function within the established hierarchy. People are immersed in the crowd and the group reverts to over-simplified ways of thinking and reacting. It goes without saying that similar collectivities result from things other than transphobia as is the case when there is a public outrage against injustices real or perceived, scandals, crimes that grip the public imagination, and so on. These manifestations soon break-up and are but temporary movements. Transphobia persists and attaches itself to existing power structures to become oppressive.
Though there may be periods of increased trans visibility and crises surrounding the trans community that can be brought on or exacerbated by transphobia, tranphobia itself survives these crisis and lays low in periods when trans issues sink back below the surface of popular or academic discourse and seem to have momentarily vanished from the public eye. Unwilling to accept their contemporary’s acceptance of trans people, their exists a near nostalgia for crises in which their community can be galvanized and reassert themselves publicly. Their personality can then fuse again with the group and they can be swept away by the torrents of the crowd. It is the atmosphere of the pogrom which becomes invoked by the assertion of a union of cis-normativity; the union of all “natural” women or men. Insofar as we maintain at least a semblance of democracy, transphobia exists within it as a covert from of the struggle between a citizenry and authority. Put the question to an angry man who breaks the law by forming groups to harass and beat trans people or who participate in other forms of gay bashing and they will readily admit it: it would be much preferable if the authorities would disburden them of having to think and act on their own. They would find it preferable if the state would deploy its monopoly on violence in pursuit of transphobic policies. But since the law is weak, they are forced to break the law out of their love of obedience to the gender laws they profess. We must ask though, is it really a strong authority that the transphobe desires? It seems more likely that they demand others display a strict order while they themselves may be allowed the freedom of their own disorders. They long for a position above the laws of civility and the others they preach, while at the same time avoiding the consciousness of their own liberties and isolation. Subterfuge is deployed: Trans people are activists, they have special interest groups and lobbyists at their disposal, they have infiltrated educational institutions with their corrosive ideology and so the authorities themselves have become corrupted at the root. These institutions have forfeit their legitimacy and so need no longer be taken seriously. As a result, there is no real disobedience for one is justified in ignoring an illegitimate authority. So, for the transphobe there are real and desirable institutions with real authorities that have been diluted and are without their special status, and then there are the abstract institutions of the transphobic imagination that are rotten with trans ideology and against which they wage their rebellion.
Such an ongoing rebellion is the work of a collective, since the transphobe doesn’t dream of acting merely on their own behalf. Further, this collective cannot be conceived as a minority, since then they’re interests are also “special” interests and they would be obligated to devise political strategies requiring some initiative, action, responsibility, and, in short, the commitment of their freedom. Transphobes do not want to create anything productive and refuse the responsibility that comes with these endeavors. It horrifies them that they are but a faction of the body politic, for they would have to have substantive policy proposals that are not reducible to an ostentatious “No!” They much prefer to be able to present themselves as the passive voice of the real people, of common sense, and objective reason indivisible into relative interests.
Enemy of trans people, transphobes nevertheless need them.
To different degrees a given transphobe is the enemy of established authorities insofar as they feel them incapable of stopping the trans threat. They are the disciplined member of an undisciplined collective. They are desirous of order, but a particular social order. They would be happy to instigate political disorder for the sake of imposing a lost social order that would respect their egalitarian pretensions, facilitate their flattened and oversimplified rules of conduct, favor their climate of exclusion, and deny trans people their identities and any rights or privileges that might be conferred upon them. They hope to derive a bizarre independence, which is a liberty without responsibility. Real liberty involves responsibilities that the transphobe would rather shirk. Caught between the authoritarian society that enforces their idea of gender norms and the tolerant, permissive society they disavow, they do what they please without giving the appearance of an anarchism that would horrify them. Their aims are taken to be of profound seriousness and significance and, since no statement can fully express the biological laws that determine our essence, they take up their frivolities. They act online and in person like hooligans, bullying, threatening, beating people up, but all for the Good Cause. If institutional authority takes a strong stance, transphobia withers, unless it becomes institutionalized itself, in which case it changes forms. Enemy of trans people, transphobes nevertheless need them. Anti-democratic, they remain the products of democracies as their antithesis and only manifest within a framework that tolerates their opposition.
See that transphobia is more than merely a “view” concerning trans people but that it involves the whole personality of the transphobe. We cannot leave it here, because transphobia does not confines itself to moral and political directives but manifests an idiosyncratic logic and conception of the world. It would difficult to say what the transphobe affirms without some reference to their general intellectual principles.
Trans people, they claim, are completely bad, not least of all because they are totally determined by their gender identity. If they have any virtues, those virtues are transformed into vices by the mere fact that they belong to a trans person. Whatever is produced by the labors of trans people is tainted by their touch. They are stigmatized. The very same act carried out by a trans- and by a cis-gendered person cannot have the same meaning because the trans person ruins everything with their who-knows-what inscrutable quality. Among the first items on the transphobe’s agenda is to prohibit trans people from using gender-specific bathrooms. If the body of a trans person is admitted into this public space that, despite its public nature, is reserved for the most intimate of functions, then that space is completely spoiled and contaminated for everyone. Every space is contaminated by the presence of a gender anomaly.
We can try to state in the abstract the general principle to which the transphobe appeals and it amounts to this: A whole is more and other than the sum of its parts. The whole determines the meaning and subterranean character of those parts of which it is composed. No single virtue can enter indifferently into a trans person’s character or the Gender Critical character in the way that molecules are indifferent to the others with which they make up various compounds. Each individual totality has their own courage, generosity, ways of thinking, laughing, and drinking. The transphobe relies on this logic of total synthesis in order to interpret their world. It is this logic of synthesis that allows them to imagine themselves forming an indissoluble unity with women and children all over the world. In is in this spirit of imagined unity that they denounce the theories and logic of trans people and others who have worked for decades outlining the idea and attitudes which describe the coherence and validity of gender identity. Whether Left or Right, traditionalist or socialist, it has been fashionable to make appeals to synthetic principles in order to combat what they see as the most pressing social problems of our time. It is often the case that these sides are not appealing to the same principles and, when they do, it is always to make different uses of them. To what use does the transphobe put these principles?
It is rare to find transphobes among the precarious and marginalized. It is, of course, absurd to think that this is because there are no trans people among them. Suppose, just for a moment, that that were true. If it were, then the precarious and marginalized would have exactly that to complain about – trans people would be better off and more secure than they. The Gender Critical crowd knows this very well when they propagandize against trans people and focus on their allegedly out-sized political clout. The trans-agenda is harmful to the more authentically and undeservedly marginalized. That trans people serve as “diversity hires” which push out others, from white cis-het-men to Black biological females. The precariat does, however, still conceive of the situation as a synthetic whole, in terms of economic relations, contrary to the transphobe’s indentitarian bent. The full-time worker, the administrator, the manager, the tenured, which express socio-economic structures of job security or precarity: these are the synthetic wholes which concern the reality of the precariat’s situation. Secondary structures fall out of these: unions, the Right to Work laws, benefits, retirement, and so on. The historical narrative of the precariat concern the differential structure of a society determined by the division of labor and the security of the wages earned by laboring. Connected to the old idea of proletariat, history can be interpreted as the interaction of economic organisms and synthetic groups.
The majority of vocal transphobes belong among the relatively secure, who fancy themselves firmly middle class. In many cases, these people have a quality of life superior to most trans people and perhaps equaled by few. They do not risk anything by espousing their bigotries, especially when they do so under the guise of civility, moderation, and intellectual curiosity. In such a situation they can freely engage in public discourse, spend their time whiling away on message boards, commenting and posting their “arguments” on blogs, sometimes leveraging their resultant notoriety into invitations to spread their ideas in more respectable venues. Marginalized by their inability to fully inhabit these intellectual spaces and more often than not fearful that a full engagement might cost them the job (or jobs) at which they labor to exhaustion, the precariat understands these social relations in terms of the concrete consequences that follows from them and the array of material conditions that are determined thereby. On the other hand, these secure bourgeois and the transphobe among them demands we understand history according only to the actions of individual wills. They behave toward social facts as if they were perfused with little souls and fixate themselves with particular individuals who are singled out for attack. Recall the case of Karen White. But aside from the extreme, there are a handful of individual grad students, activists, and characters who are drug in for abuse and who serve as the symbolic agents of an agenda that threatens the whole of society. Transphobia is a bourgeois phenomena by which they choose to explain collective events as the initiative of individual actors.
It should be noted that the precariat caricatures the secure class just as the transphobe caricatures trans people. This similarity is a merely superficial occurrence. Someone in a secure economic position is made so by external factors, not by some inherent trait of their character or biologically essential determinant. They perform an ensemble of behaviors mediated by these external conditions. For the transphobe, what makes a trans person trans is their inherent inability to conform themselves to reality as if under the spell of a kind of madness – an imbalance in their brain that causes them to reject the objective reality of their genitalia. Don’t be fooled: medicalized explanations for the general and basic existence of trans people on whole come only after the fact. The activities ascribed to trans people are only comprehensible in the light of their metaphysical essence as broken and anomalous. Indeed, how could we makes sense of a trans woman who, in her desire to be women in the most thorough-going sense and who thereby desires as a woman the emancipation of all women, sets herself to the destruction of women and the rollback of women’s rights? How could we understand the evil nature of a trans man who works in his manhood toward the destruction and exclusion of his gay brothers while claiming a shared sexual orientation?
Simplistic thinkers will speak of the domination of the trans agenda in nearly all facets of society. If we did not have the key to their passion, we would find this assertion incomprehensible. It is proclaimed, almost in the same breath, that trans people make up an insignificant portion of the population and so cannot possess the necessary clout to have their demands heard and yet that they are so powerful and widespread that they come for children with a genderbread person in one hand and a bottle of hormones in the other. They find no embarrassment in the claims that the law will enforce the will of those it jails simply for the possession of contraceptives while walking at night, or that the very people driven from the academy by a toxic and abusive atmosphere are to be blamed for the excessive political correctness that strangles academic freedom. These are the views they proclaim in invited lectures at prestigious gatherings and from platforms that reach tens of millions of readers and viewers in all countries where an Internet connection is available. Of course, this all makes sense if we withhold from trans people any course of action which is reasonable and in their own interests, and if, to the contrary, we ascribe to them a metaphysical principle by which they cannot help but do evil wherever they turn, even if it means their own destruction. Such a principle is pure magic. It is at once an essence, a substantial form of which the trans person cannot rid themselves and which dictates their actions just as a tiger is driven to hunt its prey. And yet, the trans person must also be free insofar as they are free to commit their evil, but not free to do themselves nor others any good. This principle of freedom, in contradiction to their very nature, is what the transphobe uses to justify their hatred – the trans person has chosen their defiance, just as homophobes formerly condemned gay people on the grounds that it was an immoral lifestyle choice. Trans people can only be permitted as much freedom as will allow them to be held fully responsible for their perceived crimes, but never enough to find redemption or be reformed. A bizarre freedom that, instead of being the wellspring of an essence, can only be subordinated to it, is an irrational offshoot of their essence, and still somehow remains their liberty.
Trans people are thus posited as satanic, for it is only Satan himself who is absolutely free in his defiance and yet irrevocably shackled to evil. The trans person can then be reduced to an essentially evil presence, the antithesis to the Kantian good will. Contrary to the good will, the trans will is a pure and gratuitous will to evil in the eyes of the transphobe. Through their anomalous presence, evil is made incarnate in the world. All the rot and corruption, the very downfall of Western Civilization is attributable to trans ideology and the acceptance of trans identity as legitimate. The transphobe is afraid of discovering that the world as it is is ill conceived and would then be forced to escape their mediocrity to create, invent, and modify the world. Such a project would reveal that humanity is the master of its own destiny and the transphobe would discover at last their own agonizing and infinite responsibility. The evil of the world is thus localized in the trans person. If different factions face off in a culture war, that conflict cannot arise from ideological difference, in part because the transphobe proclaims themselves innocent of ideology. It must be because the trans person is there, lurking behind every initiative with their hidden agenda, sowing discord. Even the heroism of trans figures who hurled the first bricks at Stonewall riled the gay community from placid slumber and is thus an instigator and, while the Stonewall riots themselves may be praised, they are so praised only through the erasure of Marsha Johnson. If there is a culture war concerning gender, it is not because the current gender norms are in need of reformation, but because these insidious trans people are stirring the pot.
Transphobia is therefore a form of Manichaeism where the world is interpreted through the lens of a struggle between Good and Evil. There is no reconciling these principles; the end is only achieved when one is victorious and the other annihilated. Look at the diatribes of a Jordan Peterson. Do they not resemble the sermons of a Manichaean? The forces of masculine order against the chaotic feminine dragon, that, if it cannot be annihilated, must be brought eternally to heel in a balance only achieve through masculine reason? Or Ben Shapiro, who cannot stomach “made up words” and who sees the downfall of Civilization in the slippage of pronouns he must relearn? The Gender Critical “Feminists” are more moderate and envision at least a slow battle back to reasonableness in their revisionist women’s struggle and in their corners of academia – an academia thoroughly corrupted by the very principles of “postmodern” feminism itself if the Sokal Squared gang are to be believed. The transphobe does not fall back on Manichaeism as a secondary principle, but has instead chosen Manichaeism from the start to explain and condition their transphobia. What can this original choice mean for us today?
Compare, for instance, the struggle of the precariat against the administrative class that enforces their precarity to the Manichaeism of transphobia. For the precariat, any revolutionary struggle against the prevailing economic conditions is a struggle between two human groups whose interests may be at odds with one another. This is a far cry from being a struggle between Good and Evil. If a revolutionary adopts the precariat’s point of view, it is because they are or have been a member of that class, otherwise because it is oppressed, because they are the most numerous and as a result engage the future of all humanity, and finally because the outcome will result in the restructuring of the class system as such, including the possibility of its abolition all together. Revolution aims to change the structure of society. To do so, it may be necessary to destroy the old regime. That alone is insufficient; a new society must be built. If it would come about that the privileged classes would miraculously cooperate in the transformation of society, giving solid proof of its sincerity along the way, we would have no good reason to oppose them. If it is so highly improbable that the privileged will not join socialist revolutionaries for more equitable working conditions, it is only because their very situation as a privileged class prevents them from doing so, not because their satanic essence prevents them in spite of themselves. Even if some portion of the privileged class were to break away and be assimilated to the side of the precariat, they are to be judged by their acts and not by their essence.
On the other side, the transphobe emphasizes destruction, reaction, and exclusion. There is no mere conflict of interest, but only the damage which evil powers cause society. The Good must be pursued above all by the destruction of Evil. The transphobe’s bitterness conceals their relatively optimistic belief that harmony can be reestablished once Evil is vanquished. Therefore, their task is a negative one: there is no question of building a new society, but only of purifying the existing one. To attain such purification it is useless to trust in the good will of trans people. This would be a fatal mistake, for no trans person can be a person of good will. The transphobe is a sage and paladin, a knight-errant of the Good. Trans people too are sacred in like manner, just as the untouchables are sacred. This conflict is elevated to a religious plane at the end of which is only holy destruction. The transphobe’s vision is apocalyptic.
This position has many advantages. To start, it favors a lazy mind. The transphobe understands next to nothing about contemporary society. They are not really capable of conceiving of a constructive plan. Their actions are only barely methodical; they are grounded in passion. They prefer an explosion of rage over any long-term enterprise, which partly explains their dilettantism and poor scholarly engagement. Their primary intellectual activity is one of interpretation; they seek out instances in which to find the evil power they seek to vanquish. From this impetus there emerges childish, conspiratorial falsehoods that resemble paranoia. And yet, the transphobe channels their efforts toward the destruction of particular individuals, not of institutions. The transphobic mob is content in dragging a few online opponents, in bashing a handful of trans people they find on the streets, of depriving particular trans people to access to certain spaces or social goods. It functions as a sort of safety valve for those in positions of greater power who will gladly encourage it as a substitution for the more dangerous hate that might be directed at them. The transphobe finds comfort in this naïve dualism. If the removal of Evil is all that needs done, then Good remains as a given. There is nothing to agonize over, nothing to invent or to scrutinize once it is found, nothing to prove through action, or verify through consequences, or to take responsibility for by having to admit to have made a moral choice.
It naturally follows that outbursts of transphobic rage hide a basic optimism. In a strange twist of fate, the transphobe casts their lot with Evil in order to avoid facing the Good. Absorbed totally in the fight against Evil, one never has to bring the Good into question. It need not be talked about or discussed, though it is always presupposed in transphobic communities and is carried in their thoughts. When they fulfill their destructive mission, Paradise Lost is regained. At this time, so many things confront the transphobe that they have no time to think about it. They must continually throw themselves into the breach, continue the fight, and their every outburst provides the pretext by which they can avoid the question of the Good.
Not to venture too far into the realm of psychoanalysis, but the Manichaeism of transphobia displays a deeply felt attraction to Evil. Evil is the Job’s portion of the transphobe. Whoever follows them can concern themselves with the Good, since there will be time when the fighting’s done. For them, the fight goes on and they are on the front lines with their backs to the virtues that they defend. Their task is to deal with Evil, their duty is to unmask it, denounce it, and measure the extent of the damage done. This is why they are obsessed with cataloging the sins of trans people and their allies, their threat to women, their mental illness, their incongruence with gender norms, their perversions, their inability to recognize biological facts, their treasons against sex. Their hands are dripping with excrement. Just consider Germaine Greer’s obnoxious description of a trans woman featured in “On Why Sex Change is a Lie,” which catalogues in excruciating detail all of the sins against objective womanhood committed by the trans woman, who is naturally singled out as an individual for particular derision. Such examples show the transphobe’s complexity. They fear standing out from the crowd and so do not wish to choose their own Good, preferring that everyone else’s be imposed upon them, their morality is never based upon some intuition of value, or even agape, Platonic love. It is known only by the taboos it polices, by its rigorous imperatives to conformity.
They contemplate, almost without intermission, the Evil for which they have a special intuition and for which they even develop a taste. They thus glut themselves obsessively on the recital of obscene and criminal actions by which they are perversely excited like debutantes at de Sade’s chateau. But because these obscenities are attributed to those infamous trans people on whom scorn is heaped, they can claim satisfaction without compromising themselves. I attended graduate school with a bit of a prude who expressed indignation at all talk of sex, but who nevertheless voiced enthusiasm for the coming of Spring when the quad was flooded with sunbathers and shirtless boys playing Frisbee or some other physical display. In a similar fashion, the transphobe exhibits an intense curiosity about the sex lives of trans people, especially in their genitalia, and is nearly monomaniacal in their attempts to parse out the sexual orientation of trans people so as to properly categorized them, which more often than not means excluding them from the very possibility of certain orientations that are increasingly explained through myopic focus on genital preferences.
Such behavior reflects a fascination with their concept of Evil, which amounts to a basic sadism. The transphobe is incomprehensible unless we remember that the trans person is ultimately innocent and inoffensive. And so the transphobe is forced to whisper about the secret cabals and excessive political influence of the hidden trans agenda. Though when the trans person is met face to face, the transphobe is often confronted by someone who is not prone to violence, and often even unfit to defend themselves from it. The transphobe is of course well aware of the individual weakness of a given trans person, which leaves them at the mercy of ad hoc gangs and virtual pile-ons – events over which the transphobe practically licks their lips. This is not the same as the hate felt by the Rohingya against Buddhists in Myanmar, nor by Uyghur toward the Chinese. These feelings are inspired by oppressors, hard and cruel people with weapons, money, and power who can do more to the people who rebel against them than the rebels could ever dream of doing. But since the Evil imagined by the transphobe is incarnated in people who are marginal, weaker, and usually unarmed, the transphobe is never required to be particularly heroic. It can be fun to be transphobic. One can attack trans people basically without fear. At most, a trans person can appeal to the laws of the land, which are usually relatively weak where the rights of trans people are concerned.
The sadistic attractions to trans people felt by the transphobe is strong enough that we often see transphobes seeking out ways in which they can surround themselves by trans people or be adjacent enough to the trans community to claim a number of trans friends that can be trotted out. Oh there are exceptional trans people and their friend is one of the “good ones” who are not like all the rest. The Gender Critical crowd is happy to crow about their trans friends who share in their views about Sex and so on. These protestations of friendship cannot be taken seriously, because of course the transphobe will not spare even the good ones from exclusion and cannot admit that even their friends are participating in a valid expression of gender identity. The trans-woman who the transphobe befriends is still “not a woman.” Of course, it would not be unusual for a transphobe to seek out a trans person for sexual encounters wherein the transphobe can state their curiosity about trans people’s bodies. They cannot fully commit themselves to the act, since they play at being an anthropologist with a human specimen, and they come away with more details to catalogue among those who share their passion.
A “beautiful” or “handsome” trans person is very different from an attractive or pleasing person of any other kind. There is always the threat of violence and transgression with the trans person. The “beauty” or “hotness” of a trans person comes with a lie, because it is always a beauty judged by the standards of gender norms tied to biological sex and so the passing in beauty of trans people is already a violation in the eyes of the transphobe. The adaptation of the “gay panic” defense in cases where a transphobe has murdered their would be partner makes way for the trans beauty to hold a contrary place of honor. In the logic of transphobia, they got what they wanted, in sense, which was to fool those with the proper understanding of sex and gender. The trans person is transformed into a sexual symbol, if not a sex symbol.
Their function to destroy, an innocent sadist, the transphobe prepares criminality in their hearts. They desire the death of trans people. After all, trans people do not truly exist, which amounts to the same.
Admittedly, not all enemies of trans people openly wish death upon them, but all of the sanctions which they impose – exclusion, denial of their gender identity – lead to their debasement, humiliation, and misery, and merely substitute that final erasure which the transphobe contemplates in secret. These are but symbolic murders. But the transphobe feels themselves a criminal in good conscience; they have the Good on their side. It cannot be their fault if, in executing their duty to exorcise Evil, they commit Evil. The real and legitimate society has delegated them the task to serve on the High Court of Justice. They do not have cause to exercise these powers every day, but we shouldn’t be mistaken about them. There fits of anger and sudden rages against trans people are capital sentences. The transphobe chooses to be a criminal with a pure heart. They flee their responsibility. Though they censure such murderous instincts, they have found a way to vent them without admitting them to themselves. They recognize their own wickedness, but because they do Evil for the sake of Good, since Western Civilization awaits deliverance by their hands, they perceive themselves a righteous evildoer. Through an inversion of value, the transphobe accords esteem and enthusiasm to hate, anger, murder, and violence both subtle and extravagant. Intoxicated with evil, they find their hearts lightened and their mind at ease as is only found among those who have done their duty well.
The portrait is finished. If someone who would gladly assert that they detest trans people cannot see themselves anywhere herein, perhaps they may not detest them after all. But they cannot love them either. While they wouldn’t necessarily do a trans person harm, they cannot be bother to lift a finger in their protection either. They are not transphobe per se, though they are barely human. Since it is necessary that they be something, they make themselves into an affective echo that repeats hollow gestures and gives them tacit permission to appear in public or gains them admission to certain civil gatherings. They know the bliss of being an empty noise, of filling themselves with an oversized affirmation that they find respectable because it comes from others. Transphobia is a justification for their existence. Such is their futility that they will happily abandon it for some other cause so long as the new cause is more “distinguished” than the old one. Transphobia is “distinguished” in our current society, and in academia particularly, because it dresses irrationality as a reasonable, even “feminist,” response and preserves an occult and conservative order. To all of these fools it appears as though repeating with enthusiasm the statements made against trans people will provide their admission ticket to the warm fireside of power and respectability. In this, transphobia preserves something of the old practices of human sacrifice.
It also offers considerable advantages to those who are aware of their precarity or instability and who are weary from it. It permits them to wear the vestiges of passion and, as was fashionable among the Romantics, pass this off as a personality. These secondhand transphobes can gain at little cost an aggressive personality. An older and racist relative of mine once declared, “I can’t stand Blacks,” and this was all that needed to be said to establish a tacit understanding between he and the family: make a show to avoid talking about Black people in front of him. This precaution gave him a semblance of being in the eyes of the people around him and provided the family with the agreeable feeling that they participated in a little ritual together. If someone would deliberately speak a kind word about something associated with Black culture, the relative would become animated again to make a production out of their anger and feel momentarily alive. Everyone would be happy by the end. So many people are transphobic like this old relative is racist and none of them realize the full implications of their attitudes. These cheap knock-offs could never invent transphobia, if the conscious and thoroughgoing transphobe did not exist. In their indifference, however, they ensure that tranphobia survives and even that it thrives. In their carelessness, they pass it on to future generations.
We are now in a position to understand the transphobe. They are a person who is afraid.
We are now in a position to understand the transphobe. They are a person who is afraid. Not afraid of trans people, in the end, but afraid of themselves. They are afraid of their own consciousness, of their liberty, instincts, responsibilities, change, solitariness, society, and of the world. They are afraid of everything except trans people. They are cowards who refuse to admit cowardice to themselves; murderers who repress and censure their capacity for murder without really being capable of holding it at bay, who dares to kill only through symbols, in effigy, or protected by anonymity in the mob. They are malcontents who dare not rebel in fear of the true cost of their rebellion. In espousing transphobia, they are not simply adopting a view, but are choosing the kind of person they will be. They chose the permanence and unassailability of a tree or rock, the total irresponsibility of the good soldier who’s just following orders, though they have no leader. They choose to acquire nothing, to deserve nothing, to assume that everything comes to them as if by birthright, though they are not nobles. They choose once and for all time a Good that is fixed, unquestioned, and beyond reproach and they dare not see it challenged out of fear of having to seek it in another form. Trans people serve them only as a pretext. Elsewhere their counterparts makes similar use of Black people, immigrants, others within the LGBTQ community, or Muslims. The existence of trans people merely affords the transphobe an opportunity to repress their anxieties by persuading themselves that a place in the world have been laid out for them in advance, that it waits for them, and that tradition or biology grants them the rights to claim it. Transphobia is, in so many words, just a fear of the human condition. The transphobe is a human being who desires to be no more than a stone, torrential downpour, a frightening clap of thunder – anything at all besides a human being.
1 This essay is inspired by Christa Peterson, who Tweeted the observation that transphobia displayed certain strong resemblances to anti-Semitism. The essay itself is a paragraph by paragraph, in many instances a line by line, reconstruction of the first part of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Anti-Semite and Jew (Réflexions sur la Question Juive).